Saquon Barkley of the Giants celebrates his touchdown in the fourth...

Saquon Barkley of the Giants celebrates his touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Falcons at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 26, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Saquon Barkley was at his locker minding his business one day last month when a slight hubbub developed nearby. Members of the front office and some prospects for the upcoming draft were making their way through the building on a tour of the facility and they had all paused near Barkley.

One of them stood out because of his size at 6-7 and about 340 pounds.

“I was like ‘Wow, who is that?’” Barkley recalled on Tuesday night. “I was like ‘I would not be mad if we picked him up.’”

Turned out the Giants did.

The player Barkley saw that day was Evan Neal, the tackle out of Alabama, and the two became teammates when the Giants selected Neal with the seventh overall pick.

“I didn’t know he would drop that far but hey I’m glad he’s on the team,” Barkley said. “I’m excited. Especially as a running back when they get a 6-7, 340-pound lineman who is going to help you out and help the quarterback out, too.”

Barkley spoke at the 29th annual Gridiron Gala in Manhattan where the United Way of New York City honored him as one of this year’s Hometown Heroes for his contributions to the community. Jets offensive lineman George Fant was also honored at this year’s event.

Barkley was thrilled to have Neal blocking for him this season but he said he was excited for all of the picks. He offered advice to edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux ,who was selected fifth overall and arrived in New York as one of the team’s biggest prefabricated stars since… probably Barkley in 2018.

“Just be you,” Barkley said. “At the end of the day it’s all about coming in being ready to work and having that mindset. There are going to be a lot of things across the water (from the team facility in New York City) that you can get your hands on and benefit from but at the end of the day you have to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Fant, the Jets' honoree at the United Way of New York City's 's 29th annual Gridiron Gala, said he was "very excited" by the three first-round picks his team made in the draft and is especially looking forward to locking horns with edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II in practices. "It's all about learning and teaching and helping," Fant said. "It's going to be a good time getting to work with him and hopefully I can give him some pointers coming into the league."

Notes & quotes: Since the draft ended on Saturday the Giants have parted ways with several high ranking and long-tenured members of the front office, including director of college scouting Chris Pettit, senior personnel executive Kyle O'Brien, senior pro scouting executive Ken Sternfeld and senior pro scout/football systems analyst Matt Schauger. The moves were expected and clear the way for new general manager Joe Schoen to bring in his own hires . . . Coach Brian Daboll is working to make Daniel Jones more aggressive after the first few years of the quarterback’s career have been spent trying to curb turnovers. “I want him to not be afraid of consequences and pull the trigger and attack and have a positive mindset and continue to grow and learn,” Daboll said of Jones during an interview on WFAN on Tuesday. Jones’ turnovers have diminished in the last two seasons but so has his production and Daboll is aiming to find a proper balance. 

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